Brent Batten: Reality TV goes in search of the skunk ape

BRENT BATTEN
FILE PHOTO. David Shealy took the Travel Channel crew out into the Everglades and introduced them to skunk ape eyewitnesses, and then was interviewed at home, which is part-Everglades hunting lodge and part primate reliquary.

Daily News

FILE PHOTO. David Shealy took the Travel Channel crew out into the Everglades and introduced them to skunk ape eyewitnesses, and then was interviewed at home, which is part-Everglades hunting lodge and part primate reliquary.

Do you believe in the skunk ape?

See the results »

View previous polls »

A sound technician from the Travel Channel places a microphone on David Shealy before he's interviewed at his home in Ochopee about the legendary skunk ape for the show 'Weird Travels.' Shealy is best known as Southwest Florida's self-appointed skunk ape expert.

Photo by Darron R. Silva // Buy this photo

A sound technician from the Travel Channel places a microphone on David Shealy before he's interviewed at his home in Ochopee about the legendary skunk ape for the show "Weird Travels." Shealy is best known as Southwest Florida's self-appointed skunk ape expert.

Dave Shealy has fallen on hard times, and he may have to sell one of his four-toed skunk ape foot castings, which will bring, Shealy says, $1,500 from skunk ape enthusiasts.

Photo by Diane Smith, Daily News // Buy this photo

Dave Shealy has fallen on hard times, and he may have to sell one of his four-toed skunk ape foot castings, which will bring, Shealy says, $1,500 from skunk ape enthusiasts.

David Shealy’s been trekking through the Everglades for 35 years looking for the skunk ape.

This week, he’ll have company.

A film crew from California-based Authentic Entertainment, the production company behind reality TV shows Ace of Cakes (Food Network) and Flipping Out (Bravo) is in Ochopee to begin filming a pilot reality show intended for Discovery Channel in the fall.

Shealy, curator of the Skunk Ape Research Headquarters, has appeared on other shows about the legendary skunk ape, a yeti-like creature adapted to the wilds of South Florida, including "Unsolved Mysteries" and "The Daily Show."

He calls the Discovery Channel pilot the biggest project he’s worked on.

An Authentic Entertainment associate in Burbank confirmed that a film crew is in Florida on the project but the producers in the field declined to comment on the making of the show.

Shealy said they’ll employ a helicopter to get aerial shots and tour the 10,000 Islands by boat. Advanced technology, which he declined to describe, will be used as well, he said.

“The producers really want to put together a successful show,” he said.

Shealy knows not everyone buys the tale of the skunk ape, a 7-foot tall biped covered in hair and emitting a foul odor. The website for his Trail Lakes Campground on U.S. 41 in the Big Cypress Preserve, hosts an ongoing poll asking visitors if they believe in the creature’s existence. More than 25 percent of the 2,500 respondents either believe it to be a hoax or are skeptical.

But a majority either believe in the idea or find it plausible.

He says new information is surfacing all the time. “I’m hot on the trail,” he said, adding the fresh evidence points to the presence of a skunk ape around Sunniland. “New doors are opening. I look forward to bringing this to a close real soon.”

He hopes the Discovery cameras are on hand when he does. “We’re going to break new ground here.”

Saturday just after noon, to mark the occasion of the television production and as a way to thank his camp ground and Skunk Ape Research Headquarters patrons, he is hosting a fan appreciation day at the campground. There will be live music, food, soft drinks, Shealy said. He said he’s promoting a family event so alcohol won’t be sold, but he has a couple of cases of Swamp Ale, a specialty beer made in Florida that he may give out as prizes.

Local radio host Joe Whitehead is to serve as the master of ceremonies.

In the 1990s, Shealy gained notoriety when he tried to sell the county on the idea of using tourist tax revenue to fund an expedition leading the media in search of the skunk ape. The theory was that if the media could show the skunk ape to be real, tourists would flock here hoping to get a glimpse.

The idea actually won initial approval from the Tourist Development Council before being shot down by an unamused board of county commissioners.

In the intervening years, the explosion of reality TV means that an enthusiastic pitchman -- “I consider myself the top researcher in the country, possibly the world, on the skunk ape,” Shealy says -- can on his own get the media to come to the swamp in search of an elusive and possibly illusory creature.

Even if the cameras don’t capture a skunk ape, they’re sure to capture the beauty of the Everglades, all without taxpayers having to spend a dime.

If it ends up on a major cable network, that’s a win for Collier County either way.

Connect with Brent Batten at naplesnews.com/staff/brent_batten

© 2011 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Discuss
  • Print

Related Stories

Related Links

Comments » 0

Be the first to post a comment!

Share your thoughts

Comments are the sole responsibility of the person posting them. You agree not to post comments that are off topic, defamatory, obscene, abusive, threatening or an invasion of privacy. Violators may be banned. Click here for our full user agreement.

Comments can be shared on Facebook and Yahoo!. Add both options by connecting your profiles.

Features